• Friday, March 20, 2020

    Lab grown meat is not Impossible

    Meat alternatives have been in the news a lot lately. A certain Royal burger chain has recently launched a burger that was once considered Impossible, and I can’t open my inbox or walk through a crowd at a conference without hearing something about lab-grown meat. So, it’s about time that I write something about it.

    First. Is it Impossible?
    We are really talking about two completely different products here.
           1.      Plant based meats – Products made to taste and feel like meat, but made from plants.
           2.      Lab-grown meats – Meat grown in a petri dish from cells and media. Not from plants, but not really from animals either.
    One is out in the market, the other is still in the development stages.

    Plant based meats
    Some plant-based meats I found at a grocery
    store in Texas.
    The science behind the Impossible burger is actually pretty cool. They looked at meat and asked themselves, “What makes meat so tasty?” They felt like the answer was heme, a source of iron found in muscle and blood. Heme can also be found in soy and some other plants. So they isolated the heme producing DNA out of the soy plants and inserted it into yeast. Now the yeast can grow the heme through fermentation. They combine that with soy and potato proteins, coconut and sunflower oils, salt and some other ingredients. From there, they make burgers or sausage or whatever they want. If you look at the nutrition information (calories, fat, etc…) of the Impossible burger, you’ll see that it’s pretty similar to a beef burger.
    There is another plant-based meat product called Beyond Meat that uses peas, mung beans, fava beans, and brown rice as their protein sources. They also use coconut and sunflower oils as well as cocoa butter and canola oil. Coconut oil is more saturated than other oils and likely gives these products a mouthfeel that is more similar to meats. Beyond Meat prides itself on not using GMOs and instead using beet juice extract, apple extract, and other ‘natural flavors’ to produce the meaty flavor. From what I can tell, the nutrition information on this one is also similar to a beef patty.

    Lab grown meats
    Meat products made from cells grown in a lab are being developed by over 40 different start-up companies. The most popular and well-funded of those is probably Memphis Meats, out of Berkley, CA. Others include Blue Nalu, Future Meat Technology, Finless Foods, Wild Type, and Aleph Farms.
    I’m sure all these companies have their own spin on the process, but in a very basic way, they are using cells isolated from animals, either satellite cells or embryonic stem cells to grow more cells in a lab rather than growing them in an animal.
    The cells are grown in what’s called a Bio reactor. Rather than feed and water, the cells need media, which is a combination of salts, sugars, and amino acids. Just like feeds change as animals grow, the needs of the cells change as they grow and differentiate. The scientists control the growth of the cells with hormones and provide them with scaffolding, which is a structure for them to grow on.
    This technology is quite expensive. The first cell-based hamburger that was prepared in 2013 cost approximately $278,000, but today that cost is down to about $100. A company called Eat Just, Inc. has chicken nuggets that only costs $50 a piece.
    A few of these companies are moving from lab-scale up to pilot plants, but the most ambitious timeline has products available for consumers no earlier than 2022. Most are after 2025.
    Certain cell-based products will be easier to develop than others. Comminuted products like ground beef, hot dogs and chicken nuggets will be quicker to develop than those that are trying to produce whole-muscle cuts like a steak, a chicken breast, or a pork chop. The correct texture of a marbled steak will take a little longer to develop than a ground beef burger.
    Another hurdle for these products will be regulations. In the US, meat products are regulated by USDA and call-based and plant products are regulated by FDA. The two agencies have agreed to work together to develop food safety regulations and labeling standards for cell-based meats.
    One big question is what will it be called? The USDA has standards of identity for labels like ground beef, ham, and chicken nuggets. Currently, it is not clear if beef grown in a lab outside of a cow meets those standards. (I don’t think so, but no one has asked me.) Regardless, cell-based meat or lab-grown meat doesn’t have a very good ring to it.
    So, lab-grown meats are still a long way from our dinner plates. As a rancher, a meat scientist, and as a mom, I’m not really worried about feeding them to my family any time soon.